The surge of unaccompanied migrant children (UAC) that dominated the news cycle in June and July of this year has receded – so much so that many emergency shelters established to handle the inflow are shutting down. At the height of the surge, many commentators and government officials expected 90,000 UAC to be apprehended by the end of the fiscal year (FY). As the end of the FY approaches, the number of apprehended UAC stands at roughly 66,000 - far below the estimates.
Now that the surge has receded, here are some of the most absurd overreactions to it. Never before have so many commentators been so angry over so few migrants.
1. U.S. Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) quoted in “POLITIFACT: Deadly viruses part of border crisis?” Tampa Bay Times (July 29).
Rep. Gingrey said: “Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.” [Emphasis added]
Ebola is a terrifying virus and a recent outbreak in West Africa shared the headlines with the surge in UAC, but that doesn’t mean the two events are linked. Rep. Gingrey’s office indicated that he heard about child migrants carrying Ebola from border agents. The rest of us are still waiting to hear about it.
2. Mackubin Thomas Owens, “Camp of the Saints, 2014 Style?” National Review Online (June 13).
Apparently the terrible consequences of an influx of child migrants, which was only equal to about 6 percent of the total number of legal immigrants admitted this year, was predicted by a controversial 1973 French novel entitled The Camp of the Saints – which described the end of Western Civilization due to an influx of third-world immigrants.
Owens’ comments reveal a Western tradition that should be abandoned – that every small issue signals the downfall of Western Civilization.
3. Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, “SOUTHCOM chief: Central America drug war a fire threat to U.S. national security,” Military Times (July 8).
“In comparison to other global threats, the near collapse of societies in the hemisphere with the associated drug and illegal alien flow are frequently viewed to be of low importance. Many argue these threats are not existential and do not challenge our national security. I disagree.” [Emphasis added]
There are certainly national security challenges that accompany America’s disastrous prosecution of the war on drugs and there is a security component to regulating immigration. But it is quite a leap to go from pointing out problems that could potentially get worse to then stating they are “existential.”
President Obama recently asked Congress for authority to treat Central American children in the same way the government treats Mexican children. The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act (H.R. 5137), introduced today by Reps. Chaffetz (R-UT) and Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, goes beyond the President’s request. The bill eliminates any sort of review for juvenile victims of trafficking and the requirement that an immediate return of a child be voluntary.
Under current law, Mexican children may be immediately removed if they are:
Under the proposed H.R. 5137, all children caught at the border would be subject to expedited removal, a process under which they can be removed without a hearing before a judge if they have no credible fear of persecution (8 USC 1225(b)). This process triggers an automatic 5-year bar on legal reentry (8 USC 1182(a)(9)(A)(i)). Any child caught at the border may be detained until his asylum application is adjudicated. It extends the current arbitrary one year deadline on asylum applications for adults to children.
Unaccompanied children could be detained or released under the bill while waiting for final approval of their asylum application, but the bill redefines “unaccompanied” to mean that once a child has been released to a parent, they no longer qualify for release, which means they would head right back into detention.
Worse, H.R. 5137 raises the initial standard of review for all asylum claims for children. Rather than going before a judge simply by asserting a fear, they would actually have to convince an asylum officer that their claim was “more probable than not” to be factual in order to even to go before a judge. Raising the standard that high for an initial review would bar many legitimate asylum seekers.
Even worse, H.R. 5137 allows children apprehended at the border to be removed without any asylum screening to a “safe third party country” (i.e. Mexico) without an agreement from that country, as is required by current law. If H.R. 5137 becomes law, the U.S. government would immediately start dumping Honduran, El Salvadoran, and Guatemalan children into Mexico.
The crisis along the Southwest border has prompted many Americans to want all unlawful immigrants and children removed. But this bill goes far beyond that desire. H.R. 5137 would remove many foreigners who have legal rights under our current immigration laws. H.R. 5137 would be a disastrous blow to America’s asylum system and send numerous children with legitimate asylum claims back into danger.
One persistent American complaint about the Mexican government’s opposition to immigration laws like Arizona’s SB-1070 is that Mexico’s immigration policy is far more restrictive than that of the United States or anything proposed in Arizona. In 2010, Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) articulately pointed out the Mexican government’s blatant hypocrisy. Brutal Mexican immigration laws were not only bad policy for Mexico but exposed an absurd level of hypocrisy.
After Representative Poe’s comments, the Mexican government passed a Migratory Act in 2011 that went into effect on November 1, 2012. This law replaced the General Law of Population that created the oppressive Mexican immigration laws Rep. Poe and others rightly critiqued. The Migratory Act made a number of significant changes:
Other legal changes to Mexican laws in 2008 reduced the punishment for illegal entry from up to ten years in prison to a maximum fine of 5000 pesos. The Mexican government also introduced temporary visas, valid for up to a year, for agricultural laborers from Guatemala and Belize working in Mexico’s southern states. In 2010, undocumented migrants were guaranteed the right to report human rights violations and receive medical treatment without prosecution.
Mexican Immigration Laws, Central American Free-Movement Zones, and the Increase in Central American Immigration
One unintended consequence of Mexico’s more liberalized immigration laws, partly in response to legitimate American criticism, is that now the migration of people from Central America to the United States through Mexico is much cheaper than it used to be. The biggest hurdle for Central American migrants used to be the militarized Southern Mexican border and the abuse by corrupt police, which the Migratory Act of 2011 mitigates.
Mexico isn’t the only country that changed its immigration and border control policies in recent years. In June 2006, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua signed the Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement that created a common passport and obliterated border controls and movement restrictions between those four nations. The removal of political barriers to movement has decreased the costs of migrating northward toward the United States.
Liberalized Mexican and Central American immigration laws and border controls likely play a role in lowering the cost of migrating to the United States. Ironically, American complaints that partly spurred Mexican immigration policy changes are likely a contributing factor of the recent increase in Central American migration.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released a new report claiming that there is no STEM worker “shortage”* after looking at the small wage gains in STEM occupations since 2000. CIS has a history of using poor methodology and data in their reports (see here, here, here, and here), but assuming that they did everything correctly this time, their results don’t tell us much for two reasons.
First, they don’t compare wage changes for STEM occupations with all other occupations.
Total real (2012 dollars) median annual wage growth for each of the three big STEM occupations was higher than for the median for all occupations from 2001 to 2012. Real wages for computer occupations grew by 2.05 percent, real wages for architecture and engineering occupations grew by 5.77 percent, and real wages for science occupations grew by 3.55 percent. Those gains look low until you realize that real wages for all occupations actually decreased by 0.94 percent. Compared to all occupations, wages for STEM occupations grew while attracting large numbers of immigrants.
Source: Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm.
Second, the CIS study ignores the dynamic economic effect of halting STEM immigration or what stopping STEM immigration years ago would have done to the economy. The dynamic (general equilibrium) effects of kicking out STEM immigrants or halting their flow would be to shrink the economy and diminish wage, employment, productivity, and economic growth.
*CIS and others use the word “shortage” incorrectly.
Jack Martin at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) argues that I inaccurately characterized FAIR’s pledge as anti–legal immigration. On FAIR’s pledge, it states that its purpose is this:
It is therefore essential that we know whether you will support TRUE immigration reform policies.
What are FAIR’s “TRUE immigration reform policies” that the pledge references and emphasizes with blue underlined font? Here they are, in a document with the same title. One of FAIR’s points of “TRUE immigration reform” reads as follows:
End family chain migration. Family-based immigration must be limited to spouses and unmarried minor children. Entitlements for extended family migration lead to an immigration system that is not based on merit, runs on autopilot and fosters exponential growth in immigration.
Depending on what FAIR means exactly, such a policy change would decrease annual lawful immigration to the United States by at least 138,066 or as many as 340,000 annually if we use 2011 as a benchmark. To put that in perspective, FAIR’s TRUE immigration reform policies advocate for a decrease in legal immigration of between 13 percent and 32 percent. Sound anti–legal immigration to me. If Mr. Martin is so concerned about inaccurate characterizations of FAIR’s pledge, perhaps he should be more troubled by FAIR President Dan Stein’s reference to it as the “No New Amnesty Pledge” since most of the pledge’s points concern opposition to legal immigration and not amnesty.
This is a difficult question to answer. As Matt Graham at the Bipartisan Policy Center has pointed out, the rate of internal removals as a percentage of all Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removals has declined during the Obama Presidency. But this, in and of itself, doesn’t tell us much about the long run trends of internal enforcement. We need data from the past that we can compare President Obama’s immigration enforcement record to. We only have the rate of internal deportations for the last year of the Bush Administration. Cato has filed a FOIA to find out if the government kept statistics on internal versus border removals prior to 2008 but I’ve heard the data wasn’t kept.
Let’s assume that 63.6 percent of all ICE removals were internal from 2001 to 2007. I chose 63.6 percent because that was ICE’s internal removal rates in the year 2008 – the first year when that statistic is available. That means that the number of internal removals under the Bush administration was about 1.25 million. From 2009-2013, the Obama administration’s has removed just over 1 million from the interior of the United States. Of course, Bush had three more years to deport unauthorized immigrants. 660,000 people were removed from the interior of the United States during the first five years of the Bush administration.
Source: Department of Homeland Security, BPC, Author’s Calculations.
President Bush removed an average of about 250,000 unauthorized immigrants a year, an average of 160,000 of them annually were interior removals. President Obama has removed an average of 390,000 unauthorized immigrants a year, an average of 200,000 of them annually were interior removals.
Source: Department of Homeland Security, BPS, Author’s Calculations.
As I’ve written before, the best way to measure the intensity of immigration enforcement is to look at the percentage of the unauthorized immigrant population deported in each year.
Source: Department of Homeland Security, BPC, Pew, Author’s Calculations.
I focus on the internal removal figures as a percentage of the estimated unauthorized immigrant population and assume that the internal removal rate of 63.6 percent prevailed throughout the Bush administration. If that interior enforcement rate was steady, then the Bush administration deported an average of 1.43 percent of the interior unauthorized immigrant population every year of his presidency. President Obama’s administration has deported an average of 1.75 percent of the interior unauthorized immigrant population every year of his presidency. Even when focusing on interior removals, President Obama is still out-deporting President Bush - so far.
The Obama interior removal statistics certainly show a downward trend – especially in 2012 and 2013. However, the Obama administration has not gutted or radically reduced internal immigration enforcement no matter how you dice the numbers.
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